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Saturday Night Live (Classic): "Buck Henry/Sun Ra"

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Well friends, we have come to the end of another season of Saturday Night Live. I apologize if this post is brief and/or incoherent. I just had a root canal and am currently riding the Novocaine train (or Novatrain as us Novocaine fiends call it) all the way to Happyville. I am feeling no pain, especially in the left side of my mouth.

For the final episode of its third season, Saturday Night Live brought back trusty old pro Buck Henry, a consummate comedy lifer game for just about anything. Today’s episode had a distinct greatest-hits quality to it. With the exception of a sketch about Sodom’s desperate attempts to change its image to one less intimately associated with sodomy and human sacrifice, just about every sketch featured recurring characters and popular impersonations.

Within that sturdy, familiar context however, the show took an awful lot of risks, beginning with its musical guest. Sun Ra might just be the oddest, least commercial artist the show has ever booked. Performing in what appeared to be a shirt-shaped prism, Ra finished and the season on a trippy, psychedelic, droning medley of “Space Is The Place” and “Space-Loneliness”.

Ra’s singular performance followed a similarly daring Franken & Davis Show sketch where the wacky duo came out wearing only strange codpieces-like devices and introduced Franken’s wife and son and Davis’ live-in girlfriend. Davis, not wanting to live a lie any more, then very dramatically announced that he and Franken were gay lovers. Senator Franken was so traumatized by the revelation that he stormed backstage and killed himself. But not really. End scene!


If today’s episode largely stuck to the tried and true it eked some big laughs out of sturdy premises. Buck Henry played Billy Murray’s dad in a Nerds sketch highlighted by Jane Curtin’s admission that she never particularly liked Gilda Radner’s dad but that their love overcame their strong mutual dislike. But as always it was the chemistry of the cast, especially real-life lovebirds Murray and Radner, that sold a one-joke premise that just kept going and going.

On a similar note Henry once again played the milquetoast straight man to John Belushi’s Samurai in a short and sweet Samurai TV Repairman and Jane Curtin and Dan Aykroyd hurled vicious personal insults at each other in an inspired Point/Counterpoint.


Among comedy geeks Michael O’Donoghue is a Sainted figure and while I enjoy the holy living fuck out of his stuff most of the time I must concede that his performance of “Baby Ghouls” did absolutely nothing for me and a “Bad Conceptual Art” piece, while distinguished by another great Aykroyd turn as Leonard Pinth-Garnell, peerless appreciator of all that is incompetent in the arts, took aim at a barn door-sized target and largely missed. I think it’s safe to assume that most people’s experience of avant-garde art is based largely, if not exclusively on ham-fisted parodies on shows like Saturday Night Live.

Even the opening monologue brought back one of the show’s most beloved early tropes, the onscreen crawl that comments ironically and irreverently on what the host is saying. In this case Henry brags at length about how his appearances on the show give it prestige and class while the onscreen crawl paints a tragi-comic portrait of Henry as a sad, deluded has-been who lives in a sour-smelling Hollywood apartment with no furnishings beyond a deeply creepy telescope in the corner and is asked to host Saturday Night Live purely out of pity.


It was a funny bit but it felt awfully familiar. That pretty much sums up the entire episode, though it seems a little strange to fault a show featuring Sun Ra, Davis outing himself and a future Senator from the great state of Minnesota and puppy abuse in a nifty “Stunt Puppy” sketch for playing it relatively safe.

It was good stuff though by the time the show ended I needed a break as much as the cast and crew obviously did. So it will be a good long while before I take on another TV Club Classic project. It’s been a pleasure revisiting Saturday Night Live’s glorious past with you and I look forward to tackling the fourth season as soon as the My Year of Flops book and Nashville Or Bust are both finished. There’s just not enough hours in the day, friend. Not enough hours in the day.


Grade: B+

Stray Observations—

As a Saturday Night Live die-hard, I enjoyed the holy living fuck out of Don Pardo’s cameo on 30 Rock


—I’m seriously thinking about covering new Saturday Night Live next season.

—Pretty colors. Pretty, pretty colors dancing inside my head

—I have officially come around on Franken and Davis. They got off to a rough start but they really found their voice late in the third season.


—Favorite sketches/moments/episodes from this season?

—Seacrest Out!


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